[Interview] Sameer Rehman -Bell Helicopters’ Managing Director for Africa and Middle East

Sameer Rehman the Managing Director for Africa and Middle East spoke to us about the prospect of Bell’s products in Africa, their challenges and how operations in servicing the helicopter market in the continent.

Can you tell us about the range of products being offered to customers in Africa?

Bell has established significant relationships across Africa. From Morocco to South Africa, across all 54 countries. Our presence is far-reaching in many sectors of the market including military, law enforcement, medical services, oil and gas, corporate tourism, VIP flights and wildlife preservation.

In markets like Nigeria and Angola, who rely heavily on oil and gas revenues, our decades-long experience with the Bell 412 and Bell 407 have brought stability, security, and prosperity to the citizens of these countries for which we are very proud.

We have the Bell 505, which has once again redefined the short, light single market effectively replacing and enhancing the Bell 206 series that is popular in many parts of Africa. The Bell 206 B and Bell 206 L have had a profound impact on the training market on the continent with growing opportunities in South Africa, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt and other economies where helicopter aviation is important. The Bell 505’s advanced technology, cost effectiveness and ease of operation make it a favourite for many of these countries.

Other segments of the market addressed by our products and services in East and South Africa such as Uganda and Kenya where Bell has been successful in understanding and meeting the needs of the military with the Bell Huey II and the VIP and Airborne Law Enforcement markets throughout the continent have found promise in a wide range of our product offerings including the Bell 505 and Bell 429. With close to 600 helicopters in Africa, Bell continues to work hard to create value to our customers in the places they need us most.

A sizeable number of African countries use Bell helicopters. How do you intend to support these customers particularly in the area of aircraft maintenance, parts and accessories supply chain, airframe refurbishment, total overhaul, and avionics upgrade?

Africa does present a vast and diverse geographical and geopolitical environment that requires unique solutions. Bell has multiple authorized Customer Service Facilities in Africa that support the Bell fleet with parts, local maintenance, and overhaul solutions.  Our Bell Service Facilities in Prague and Amsterdam also have a long and successful track record of supporting our Bell customers in Africa for both parts support, Component Repair and Overhaul as well as offering mission-specific upgrade and refurbishment options. We continue to evaluate our customers’ needs on the continent and look forward to expanding our regional offerings in the future.

Currently, many of our operators across Africa have chosen Bell aircraft for the ease of maintenance and have built their businesses around the fact that they can do much of their own maintenance. African operators are very successful and self-sufficient, using cost-effective parts supply and depot level repair options available in our network supplementals their self-contained maintenance solutions. Bell is closely watching this fleet and its maintenance requirements to make sure that we provide the most cost-effective solutions that match the needs of our customers.

With the proliferation of Russian helicopters and the entrance of Chinese alternatives in the aviation market, particularly in Africa, how do you intend to promote your products and compete in the sector?

Bell’s longstanding investment in Africa spans over many decades and has several partners on the continent who help us service and support our customers. Bell’s legacy can be witnessed doing important work to support the economies of Africa and this, coupled with our industry-leading service and support has been key to us meeting the needs of our customers in the emerging countries of Africa.

Bell has continued to focus on the ability to approach customers at a local level. This has helped us overcome some of the challenges that many companies face in Africa. We consider these the biggest opportunities for Bell and its customers to grow together and will continue to do so well into the future.

What’s your company’s plans for the next few years especially in the African continent?

Bell is continuously looking at ways to redefine vertical lift. Africa does face unique challenges that can only be addressed by safe, reliable, and effective transportation. Transportation, too, is a form of communication and Bell has adapted over the last few years to become a technology company to address communication-through-transportation challenges that environments like Africa face.

Bell is heavily involved in delivering logistical solutions in the form of autonomous flight. Bell’s autonomous pod transport (APT) program will do just that. It will not only help the military in delivering critical supplies to troops in remote areas but also the common citizen gain access to medicine, information and in the future something as simple as daily supplies as groceries. Bell is looking at possibilities to make this service available to the everyday person for their everyday needs.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected Bells’ operations? What about backlog of orders, how have you been able to fulfill them?

As the COVID-19 situation rapidly evolves, Bell is taking significant steps to ensure the health and safety of our workforce and customers. Currently, all Bell manufacturing and production, service facilities and delivery centers are operating on their regular schedules, without any disruption. We will continue to adhere to the guidance of the CDC, WHO and local governing health authorities to implement any required changes to our business.

Interest is now shifting to personal air vehicles and autonomous cargo vehicles, and Bell has already delved into this space with its amazing and innovative product concept like the Nexus 4EX Electric Vertical AirTaxi, and the Bell APT (Autonomous Pod Transport). Could you tell us more about your activities in this area and your future plans?

Urban Air Mobility (UAM) has been a hot topic for some time now with technology and mobility companies joining together to help accelerate this further. With UAM, we will have a safe, accessible, and sustainable mode of transportation for cities all over the world. An element of UAM is electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircrafts which will ensure that a significant proportion of the population will be able to travel within and between cities, cost-effectively. These eVTOL aircrafts will in turn have a positive impact on how people interact with one another. When linked to a smart city, UAM will provide a fully connected and sustainable mode of living

Bell is very active in this field and for example, has revealed the Bell Nexus 4EX, a four-duct concept vehicle configurable in an electric or hybrid-electric platform that can travel farther or to more remote locations, based on your mobility needs. We have also developed another product in the

Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) 70, a new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to transport cargo. With APT, Bell has created a UAV capable of performing multiple missions for emergency services, logistics companies, and the military.

We’re excited to pursue many technology advancements in the UAM space. To name a few; autonomy, energy storage systems, electric propulsion, and noise reduction. With advancements in these technologies, we can grow our expertise and shape the future of flight through revolutionary, innovative vehicles.

For more information, visit Bell’s website here

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